MOVIE REVEW: THE ESCHATOLOGY OF “2012”
by Jeremy Berg
Anyone up for another gloom-and-doom, apocalyptic global disaster movie? Hollywood served up a doozy in “2012.” I have heard mostly negative reviews of this film. But I think it delivers in what one should expect in a global disaster film: a lot of disaster and precious little acting or plot.
The special effects were better than ever — though soon to be dwarfed by “Avatar” which came out soon after. Disturbing yet awesome scenes of global upheaval and catastrophe kept coming for the entire 2 hours and 40 minutes of gloom and doom. First earthquakes whose “cracks” (if you can call them cracks) chased John Cusack and family to one side of the city to the other like heat-seeking missiles. Then came the explosive volcanoes in Yellowstone National Park and everywhere and the resulting ash showers.
But the volcanoes and earthquakes set in motion the shifting of the earth’s continental plates causing the most deadly and decisive cataclysmic force of all: worldwide tsunamis. The ferocious tsunamis eventually drowned the entire planet just as our friends find refuge on ginormous, 21st century style “arks” secretly hidden high on the mountains adjacent Mount Everest reserved for the political leaders of the nations and those who could afford to buy their salvation ticket for 2 billion a seat.
It’s a fun movie and worth seeing — especially on the big screen with surround sound.
But what messages does this film send about the “end of times”? You can’t watch a movie like this and not ask, How will it eventually end? (And who says it’s going to “end” anyways?) How would human beings behave if the end of the world was imminent? Would we all join together with people of all faiths and none to celebrate our common humanity and make peace for our last moments? Would religious fanatics grow more divisive and spend the final hours of earth shouting at each other and debating whose faith offers the sure hope? Would people give up their faith in despair and hopelessness, concluding that God must not exist after all as they watch the horror unfold? Or, would atheists all storm the cathedrals in repentance and newfound faith as they fear meeting their maker?
Well, the movie sends a couple popular, predictable yet ultimately hopeless messages. Here are a couple of the messages I saw coming through clearly in this film:
1. Science and philanthropy are our two best hopes for the survival of our species and civilizations. At one point in the movie, the main scientist is told by his father that the remnant who survives the flood in order to begin a new civilization will have need of a good scientist and little need for politicians (with no mention at all of spiritual leaders in the new world). While I value scientists as much as the next person, it’s interesting that they make them the greatest hero in a situation where they are so impotent to do anything. It’s like saying, “Doctor, please describe in detail exactly how the world is coming to an end so I can take notes.”
In reality, I would be money many more people would be flooding the churches, consulting spiritual leaders, attempting to “get right with God” and doing some soul searching in their final minutes than looking for a scientific analysis as the world ends. But our culture (at least the secular, university-influenced sector) has raised science and scientists to the place of influence and authority only religion once held. While the New Atheists have greatly influenced many young secular thinkers (and Hollywood in particular), in reality most Americans still very much believe in God and would definitely be flooding places of worship if the end drew near.
2. The movie portrays religious folk in one of two categories: freaks and relativists. First, there are the crazy, wing-nut fanatics (played perfectly by Woody Harrelson) living in their camper full of conspiracy theory files, hiding in their bunkers, chasing black helicopters and marching the streets with picket signs of warning and judgment.
On the other extreme, there are the more “open-minded, spiritually sophisticated” religious relativists who believes all religions are equally valid paths to God. The message coming through is: If the ship is going down then let’s just put our religious differences aside, hold hands, celebrate our common humanity and sing Kumbaya as it sinks.
I’m all for holding hands and singing together, but there seems to be no place in this movie (or Hollywood, for that matter) for the average American Christian believer who is not on the street corners with picket signs or living in a cult compound but nevertheless believes God holds the future in his hands and the Bible reveals a hopeful future for the world and people of faith.
When it comes popular culture’s perception of Christian views of the “end times” however we don’t need to blame Hollywood for our reputation as gloom-and-doom preaching, Armageddon-thirsty fanatics awaiting the destruction of the earth and our escape (“rapture”) to an otherworldly heavenly bliss in the sky. The “Left Behind” novels have made a deep impression on Christian views of God’s plans for the end, mistakingly propagating a spirit-matter dualism foreign to the Bible and contributing to a form of anti-creational view of the earth, environment and the ultimate Christian hope.
Fortunately, in the past couple decades other prominent biblical scholars have helped us regain a more biblical view of God’s plans for his creation, reminding us of our original human mandate to be wise and caring stewards of God’s good earth and the fact that God ultimately plans to someday lift the curse (cf. Gen. 3; Romans 8) and renew the earth — not destroy it.
We can enjoy wildly speculative science fiction movies like “2012”, ponder what would happen if the sun’s rays began to melt the earth’s core, imagine wild and catastrophic geological phenomena and guess how human beings would react under those circumstances. But at the end of the day Christians need be able to articulate a biblical view of the “end times” and offer the hope of the gospel that looks “forward to the new heavens and new earth [God] has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13) when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21) where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
For, He who is faithful has promised, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:3) and “if I am going away to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and welcome you into my presence, so that you may be where I am” (John 14:3). “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thes 4:16-17). “Then the end will come, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For Christ must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet…When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15).
All of this reminds us that Christians believe the future rests securely in the hands of the Living God. Therefore, let us live as wise stewards of God’s good earth, trusting Him with it’s ultimate destiny and focus our attention here and now first and foremost on “the Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33) and God will take care of all the rest. Grace and peace!